Planned Parenthood Votes CEO fighting for reproductive health care

Jennifer Allen returns to PPVNH to take on Trump administration, promote healthy policy

Planned Parenthood Votes CEO fighting for reproductive health care

Planned Parenthood Votes CEO fighting for reproductive health care

Editor's Note: The Madison Park Times spoke with Allen at the Central District Health Center, which is located at 2001 E. Madison St.

Jennifer Allen is back at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, now at the helm as its new CEO.

In just a month since she started her new position, the reproductive health organization has filed another lawsuit against the Trump administration, is still in federal funding limbo and is also facing the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Yes, Planned Parenthood is under attack on multiple fronts, Allen said.

“We’re not going down without a fight — we never do.”

Allen spent nearly 14 years leading policy and coordinated political work at PPVNH before she moved to the East Coast to serve as CEO at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia and the Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC in March 2017.

“We had a really great year there,” Allen said. “We were successful at some of the same things that I think Washington has had success at, and I want to have more success in.”

Virginia has off-year elections, and 2017 was the first post-Trump election where all state house positions were open.

“We managed to make a huge amount of progress with pro-reproductive health progressive members getting elected to every statewide seat,” Allen said, “and then picking up 14 seats in the Legislature.”

That was a good start, but Allen said it was the work that came after that she thinks earned those votes, including the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia and access to long-term reversible contraceptives.

Allen returned to the Pacific Northwest this spring, and assumed her new role at PPVNH on June 1.

“I’ve been here a long time. I’ve grown with this organization, so it’s kind of deep in my heart,” Allen said, “and so the opportunity to take everything I did here, take everything I added to that in Virginia, and step into a leadership role here was a chance I absolutely could not pass up.”

Allen is also serving as chief policy officer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands (PPGNHI), which joined several other regional offices of Planned Parenthood in suing the Department of Health and Human Services on June 22.

At issue is the Trump administration’s attempt to require Planned Parenthood’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention program to shift to teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage.

“It’s not clear why we would want to change course when what we are doing is working,” Allen said.

PPGNHI and other Planned Parenthood branches in February challenged attempts by the Trump administration to terminate TPPP grants early, and a federal court in Spokane sided with the organization in April.

“Now that they’re attempting a different way and trying to make the program abstinence-only, that doesn’t fit either. What we are doing is working,” Allen said. “We have a plan — we have a five-year plan to do teen pregnancy prevention work in ways that are evidence-based and in ways that we know are successful and we’re beginning to show through evaluation is successful.”

HHS reports the 2016 teen birth rate was down 9 percent from 2015, and the 2015 teen birth rate was down 8 percent from 2014.

“Evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs are programs that have been shown, in at least one program evaluation, to have a positive effect on preventing teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, or sexual risk behaviors,” according to the Center for Disease Control.

Planned Parenthood is also suing to keep its federal Title X funding, which funds affordable birth control and reproductive health care services for low-income individuals.

HHS is proposing to restrict Title X funds for Planned Parenthood and all other family planning providers that perform or refer patients for abortions. Allen said the department is taking rule-making comments through July 31, and the feds have to respond to those comments. (Anyone wanting to make a comment in support of Planned Parenthood to HHS can do so here. The HHS website does not make it clear how to comment on the proposed rule change directly).

“Again, it’s another example where we’re just fighting back every step of the way,” Allen said. “We’re just not going to back down and be quiet.”

Like other states, Washington needs to provide a match for Title X dollars, which it does through a fund that includes other wraparound services, Allen said.

“It will be a huge blow to the ability to provide comprehensive, high-quality reproductive health care to low-income people in Washington if Title X goes away,” Allen said, “which is why we’re fighting so hard against that.”

Allen said abortion services are already a prohibited use of Title X funding, or any other federal funding for that matter.

“That already exists,” she said, “so this is overreach.”

PPGNHI covers Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii, and abortions represent 21 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides across all four states. The most used services are for contraception, as well as sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment.

“We are proud to be a provider of safe and legal abortion services; that’s not something that we shy away from talking about,” Allen said. “At the same time, we are a provider of comprehensive reproductive health care services, so we are helping people every step of the way.”

The Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that California’s crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) do not have to provide clients with information regarding state services for abortions on the grounds that would be a violation of free speech rights.

The King County Board of Health passed a rule in 2017 that requires CPCs to post a notice on-site and in their advertising that makes it clear they are not health care facilities.

King County Councilmember and Health Board chair Rod Dembowski authored the legislation.

“I am reviewing the Court’s decision with our legal team. If we need to fine tune the particulars of the form of the disclosure, we will do so,” Dembowksi said in a June 26 statement. “Regardless, I am optimistic that the County’s more narrow regulation that was supported with a strong factual record is constitutional and will remain in place.”

Because CPCs are not health care facilities, Allen said it’s hard to measure their impact. CPCs also are not held to any regulations that a health center would operate under.

“We can absolutely tell you that, anecdotally, we have had patients that come into our health centers all the time that tell us things like, ‘I just wanted a pregnancy test, and they said they could give me a free pregnancy test, and then they wouldn’t give me my results, and they made me come back in two weeks and they told me all this stuff; is it true I’ll get breast cancer if I have an abortion?’” Allen said. “They say all of these terrible things to folks. They really try to shame and pressure these folks in ways that we just find deeply morally objectionable.”

The latest upset for Planned Parenthood and pro-choice advocates was the June 27 announcement that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire at the end of July.

Kennedy was the swing vote on the court, and his departure means Donald Trump will now be able to nominate a replacement, which he’s previously stated would be someone who would support the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 case that legalized abortion in the United States.

“I think it’s absolutely right to say that the future of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance,” Allen said, “but that’s a long way from here. We have a lot of steps in the process before then.”

She noted that there had been fear at the start of Trump’s presidency that the Affordable Care Act would be repealed immediately, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“What we’re doing,” Allen said, “and what we will be doing right now is taking advantage of every action that we can possibly take in helping our patients and constituents across the country to take advantage of every step they can take to speak out against this — to speak out against an activist Supreme Court.”

Planned Parenthood is already encouraging people to contact their senators and asking them not to support any nominee that doesn’t support “the basic rights of the American people,” she said.

“Nothing’s over until it’s over, so we’re going to fight every step of the way.”